It may have taken just a few days to fumigate the White House but it is going to take much longer to disinfect democracy of a disease that is not confined to America. It used to be called political correctness, but that was when it seemed harmless. Now that we've seen the reaction it can produce it needs to be taken more seriously.
First it needs to be recognised by its spreaders, principally the news media. Many times over the past four years I've tuned into CNN to watch its discussion panels agonise over the latest appalling statement of their president. Invariably, sooner or later, someone on the panel would say America's divided tribes were talking past each other and had to learn to talk to each other again.
The rest of the panel would nod in solemn agreement with that sentiment but none seemed to realise what it then required of them. The same sentiment pervaded the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on Thursday but the new President offered no more than worthy resolutions.
Restoring a democracy to health requires powerful people to acknowledge some validity in an opposing point of view. Donald Trump was incapable of doing that, Biden and Harris should be able to do better.
Biden's inaugural address began, "This is democracy's day", by which he meant it had survived the Trump mob's invasion of the Capitol. He struck some conciliatory notes: "We need to start afresh. Let's begin to listen to each other again, hear each other again, see each other again, show respect for one another again."
Then some clanging notes. Opposing views were, "political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism . . . anger, hatred, extremism . . . racism, nativism, fear . . . facts that are manipulated, even manufactured".
Offering Trump voters a word of understanding he decided they were worried for their jobs, their family's healthcare and their mortgage. That's one explanation for Trump's appeal, the other is that voters relished his challenge to oppressive rules of public discussion.
The mob that ransacked the Capitol on January 6 also set about battering a line of television cameras set up to cover their protest. Trump used to whip up his crowds' antagonism to media covering his rallies and he wouldn't have found it hard. I know people who admired Trump only because he offended people like me, and I understand that.
Many journalists have had a tertiary education in liberal arts and it shows. Some of their news angles reflect the values and explanations of a social science seminar where nobody's misfortune can be attributable to poor personal decisions, society is always to blame, if an ethnic minority is underperforming it is evidence of "systemic racism".
Questions that arise in the minds of many readers, I suspect, do not appear to have been asked, perhaps because they imply scepticism that is no longer respectable on these topics.
Some media outlets have openly committed themselves to a certain view of subjects such as climate change, declaring the science is "settled" and closing their columns to contrary opinions. A New Zealand media company recently repented of all previous coverage of Māori by papers in its stable, finding it racist.
If the world is not to suffer more populist disasters, possibly even an encore for Donald Trump, news media have to find an open mind again.
It is not totally unreasonable to doubt that a 2-degree rise in global temperature over the course of a century would be an unmitigated disaster. It is not anti-scientific to examine the published figures for Covid-19 deaths, notice the demographic proportions and wonder if they warrant a response as drastic as lockdowns.
It is not simply "racist" to think non-Western immigration could undermine your culture. I don't share that view but I can understand it. It's a fear that needs to be addressed, not suppressed. Racism has more to do with fear than hate. The word needlessly antagonises people and makes them afraid to speak their mind unless they're among friends.
If American Democrats and the country's respected newspapers and television networks really would like to bridge their country's cultural divides, rather than simply saying they do, they need to come halfway over the bridge. They need to overcome their aversion to certain views and respect the fact that a lot of people, about half the population, think that way.
At times during the inauguration I flicked over to Fox where they were asking whether the Democrats really wanted to talk across the divide or merely hoped to "reprogramme" Trump supporters, "brainwash" them.
Biden and Harris are genuine, I think. They are moderates, capable of meeting people half-way. Media should make the effort too, not just in America but everywhere. They have lost touch with too many.